March 23, 2002

Attendee-Centered Conference Design
Megnut discusses how the design of a conference can greatly impact the user/attendee experience of the event.

"I was considering holding questions until the end of my presentation because I didn't want to get off-track or lose my place in my presentation. I was placing my needs as a speaker before the needs of my audience. He recommended I take questions throughout, since I'd be able to gauge my presentation based on the audience's feedback. If I waited until the end, he warned, it would be too late to adjust. That one simple suggestion led to the best presentation I've ever given, and a very engaging discussion throughout my session."

Meg's article got me thinking. As much as I enjoyed CHI last year and am looking forward to it again next month, the CHI "attendee experience" could be improved quite a bit. 1) Special Interest Groups (SIGs), some of the most interesting conference events, aren't even listed on the conference schedule. SIGs also were given rooms that were way too small last year -- if you didn't get there at least 5 minutes early, you were out of luck. Dozens of people were often seen lined up at room entrances after the room was filled. In contrast, I attended a few paper presentations booked in huge auditoriums that were nearly empty. My take as a practioner was that many attendees wanted to share war stories and lessons learned (in a SIG) rather than hear some grad student talk about some HCI minutae (in their paper presentation). 2) Planning what conference events to attend is an adventure since there's no good visual outline of what events are happening when. The closest thing you get is a "conference at a glance" page that effectively tells you most types of things like "tech sessions" happen all day long -- "tech sessions" include panels, discussions, papers, plenaries, short talks, and posters. There's no view that tells you what your half-dozen options are from 10-11am on any given day.

I recall many people commenting on the poor usability of the CHI 2001 web site, and while the CHI 2002 site was designed by Diamond Bullet, I'm sure the work was likely donated and therefore didn't include any type of usability evaluation. Ironic, isn't it?

March 22, 2002

Light Keyboard
I have to wonder about the usability of "a full-size fully functional virtual keyboard that can be projected and touched on any surface."
Funny Stupidity
A hacker who is representing himself in court has claimed that the person charged must not be him because the government complaint listed his name in all capital letters. He also demanded to know whom the prosecution represented and when informed that they represented the United States, "He complained that I had not brought my client with me," the prosecutor said.

Of course none of his antics help his court case's an article covering the story further.

[via Corante]
All my secrets exposed
Kudos to Peter Merholz for talking about how a potential client questioned his firm's professionalism. His story sparked a bit of discussion about client-vendor relationships and the Request for Proposal (RFP) process used by many companies. I think anyone involved in a vendor selection process (on either side) will get something from this discussion.

[Also picked up by SvN...]
Links save users 42 steps
A report on the NISO/NFAIS Linking Workshop held February 24, 2002 has some very ineresting discussion about linking. A couple of interesting points:

- When linking to a document sometimes the same one URL doesn't work well for all users. Links that are "user aware" would ideally link users to the most appropriate version/copy of a document based on who they are.
- Having the right link can save users a lot of time and effort -- typically saving them about 42 steps to access the same information versus getting there without a direct link.

...Of course we already knew that "links are good" and act like shortcuts. I've just never seen their effectiveness quantified.
Thesaurus Construction Set
The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) has a comprehensive document covering the ANSI standard for creating, displaying and maintaining a Thesaurus.

[via Andrew at HeyOtwell...]

March 19, 2002

This week's boxes
Boxes and Arrows just published two new articles. One covering how to define Information Architecture, and another that's a review of the Nielsen Norman Group report "Intranet Design Annual: The Ten Best Intranets of 2001". I recently read the NNG report, and I pretty much agree with Jeff Lash's review -- it's a decent report in that it provides snapshots of some interesting intranet sites. One slight misnomer is the report's name implies it covers "intranets", but it really covers "intranet sites" or sites on my world there's a huge difference. At my company, we have (only) one intranet with literally hundreds of sites on it.

I'm scheduled to give a review of the NNG report and a couple of other recent research reports at an upcoming UPA-MN meeting. Jeff Lash probably just made my work a lot easier.
Adaptive Path Tour 2002
Guru's on parade...coming to one of five cities near you this year. If their tour is as good as their past presentations look, it should be worthwhile. Now if I could just become a professional Usability/IA "groupie" and attend all these conferences and other events like CHI, IA Summit, SXSW, and UPA, year round, I'd really be having some fun! But alas, like Christina said, sometimes you just have to go create something. I think that's to keep some kind of brain equilibrium established. After you fill your brain with a bunch of Usability/IA wisdom from the gurus, eventually you need some kind of outlet or your brain will implode. Why would it implode rather than explode? Because Jared says good content sucks.

Apologies to JJG for once again using the dreaded Usability/IA phrase! :)

March 17, 2002

NYC Mayor Bloomberg advocates UCD
Developers of technology products need to listen to user concerns and requirements from the beginning, and the user relationship should continue after a product is delivered, he said. "The best days are yet to come for your industry, but only if we are customer- and client-sensitive and we put ourselves in a situation of understanding what people need, and have the openness to go and see after we do things whether we were right or not."

He cited an example from his own experience in the business world to show why it's important to consider the customer from the start. He recalled an occasion in which a receptionist was charged with making name badges for all visiting customers. Because the fields in the program she was using were so small and required so much unnecessary information, the line of customers waiting for badges was often intolerably long. So Bloomberg went to the IT department, found the programmer who had developed the software, and forced that programmer to work the reception desk for two days. Needless to say, the software usability was quickly improved, Bloomberg said. But it was a situation that could have been avoided if the programmer had thought about the product from the user's perspective before designing it.

It's great to see someone of this notoriety advocating a user-centric perspective. My only critique is that it's not just "thinking about it from a user's perspective" that would have helped. A few unanswered questions remain: Did the programmer ever receive training on how to design user interfaces? Did the company have UI guidelines in place? Was the project given proper budget for doing it right the first time? User Centered Design goes much further than just "thinking like a customer" -- good design involves a design process, not just a thought process.

Full article: InformationWeek - NYC Mayor Bloomberg Talks Up Customer-Centricity
(Update: The "Great Google" turned up Jakob Nielsen's comments on this article as well. Note Jakob's page doesn't offer "permalinks", so you have to scroll to March 15, 2002...Jakob, needs to convert to blog software for better functionality for his spotlighted links page.)

Other similar statements from Bloomberg:
"I've learned that change is always evolutionary and is virtually never revolutionary. There are no simple solutions to complex problems. ... everyone says that they're going to revolutionize the world with a little piece of software. The press writes about such things because they're interesting. And the public would like to believe that you can get something for nothing -- but that's just not the case. ... Our customers don't care about what their suppliers sell, they only care about what we have that can help them. Our focus has always been to explain how we can improve their lives -- make them more efficient, more pleasurable -- as opposed to selling what we produce."
From Fast Company - Smart Steps (March 2001)
Profound it ain't...
Great quote I heard from someone in the pop group "B2K" on TV yesterday. This "artist" was referring to their recently released album and said:

"Anyone can listen to it. There's no profound lyrics or anything on it."

...I think he meant to say "profane", but I'll trust his actual statement is more accurate. I got a big laugh out of it!